Deadline extended to 15 July

By Dave Abson

Due to popular demand and academia’s somewhat loose interpretation of the notion of a deadline*, we have extended the abstract submission deadline for the Leverage Points 2019 conference until 15 of July 2018. Please spread this information within your networks.

* Best said by the late great Douglas Adams “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”


Leverage Points 2019: International conference on sustainability research and transformation, Lüneburg, Germany, 6-8 February – Call for abstracts

Humanity sits at a crossroad between tragedy and transformation, and now is a crucial time for sustainability research. Radical approaches are needed in sustainability research and praxis if they are to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Inspired by the work of Donella Meadows’ “Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system”, this conference will explore the deep leverage points that can lead to sustainability transformations, asking: how do we transform ourselves, our science, our institutions, our interventions and our societies for a better future?

The conference is premised on three principles: 1) The importance of searching for places where interventions can lead to transformative change; 2) Open inquiry, exchange and co-learning across multiple theoretical, methodological and empirical research approaches; and 3) The need for reflection on modes of research and processes in sustainability research. We hope that this conference will help us move from incremental to transformational change; extend our thinking about complex sustainability challenges and deepen our collective and transdisciplinary research practices.

The call for abstracts is now open until 15 July 2018.

For more information please visit:

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

You are a Leverage Point!

by Karen O’Brien

Have you ever thought of yourself as a leverage point? Someone who can shift systems in big ways? At the 2019 Leverage Points Conference at Leuphana University, I plan to explain why you – and all of us, for that matter — should think of ourselves as leverage points for systems change. I will encourage you to lay aside your favorite “–ism” and consider your potential to generate change from a wider and deeper perspective, starting with the idea that systems are relationships and that your relationship to nature, to others, to yourself, and to the process of change actually matters. Literally!

As a big fan of Donella Meadows’ 1999 essay on “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” I am particularly interested in working with the highest leverage points. Shouldn’t we all?  Given the challenges facing humanity and the urgency of responding to them, we need to use the greatest leverage that is available to us. This, I will argue, is much more than we think.

Meadows identified 12 leverage points, each of them more powerful than the preceding one in terms of their potential to transform systems. The top three leverage points that she identified were:

  1. The goals of the system;
  2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.
  3. The power to transcend paradigms.

Meadows describes the capacity to transcend paradigms as a basis for radical empowerment. If there is anything that we need today, it is radical empowerment. In my keynote presentation, I will discuss the “three spheres of transformation,” including how they relate to Monica Sharma’s approach to Radical Transformational Leadership. I will then discuss the paradox of paradigms, including how thought patterns influence our “degrees of freedom,” particularly when it comes to systems interventions.

Drawing on insights from my ongoing exploration of quantum social change, I will then explain why and how you matter. If we think of ourselves not as merely individuals (i.e., discrete particles), and not as merely a collective unity (i.e., a big wave), but as both particles and waves, we become more like processes rather than fixed entities. When we introduce consciousness into the picture, including the role of beliefs, intentions, and free will, we may even recognize that we are the individual, the collective, and the system. This gives us tremendous power to transform ourselves, our communities, and our systems.

We are, of course, transforming already, all the time. Yet the current transformations are pushing us towards a world that is unequal, fragmented, homogenized, reduced, and broken, rather than evolving us towards a world of equity, integrity, diversity, coherence, and healing.  When we recognize that the future is a choice, and that the meanings we give to ourselves and our future do actually matter, we may start to see ourselves as the most powerful leverage point that exists and empower ourselves to transform systems in equitable and sustainable ways.


Abstract submission for this conference closes on 30 June — soon! Submit your Abstract here.

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

A family friendly conference

By Anne Jo Berkau

Many of the members of organising committee for Leverage Points 2019 have children – from very young babies upwards. As such, we are acutely aware of the support needed in order to work AND care for your children. At this conference it will be us who support you.


Free childcare during the conference sessions

Professional kindergarten carers can take care of your children during day (from 8:00-18:00). Yes, all day! The day before the conference starts, your children can get acquainted with the carers while you are there. You can discuss your children’s special needs and preferences. If you want to know more about the carers beforehand please stay tuned, we will introduce them on our website soon.

Nursing room

We have a quiet nursing room for breastfeeding and pumping.

Napping room

We have a napping room: completely dark and quiet. If your child needs a nap during day time one of our caretakers will watch over your child while it sleeps.


We have a kitchen with the possibility to store food, milk etc. in the fridge and a microwave and kettle to heat baby-food.

Short distances:

All of the childcare facilities we provide are in the same building as the conference. They are easy to access with strollers. All facilities are next to one another.

Food for children

We will supply baby food and food and drinks for older children during the day.

Meet the parents at the conference

You will not be the only parent attending this conference. There will be a special networking event for you organised by Prof. Julia Leventon (details will be provided closer to the conference).

Babysitters during the evening

We can arrange individual babysitters for your children in the evening (and night) if required (costs not covered by the conference).

Special arrangements

We want you to come to this conference! With your kids! We know how much of a struggle this can be, but we will be there to support you! Let us know what you and your children require, get in touch with us.

Please contact me, the conference coordinator, Anne Jo (mother of two sons, 5 and 7 years old)


Learning with and from cases: A case-based Mutual Learning Session at the Leverage Points conference

By Moritz Engbers

Mutual learning is a fundamental aspect in transdisciplinary sustainability research. It is considered to increase the knowledge of participants, and at the same time appreciate the multiple perspectives co-existing in the process. Mutual learning is also one of the prerequisites for the creation of socially and culturally robust knowledge. In order to facilitate and reflect on those learning processes, we will have a case-based Mutual Learning Sessions (cbMLS) as part of the Leverage Points conference. This transdisciplinary workshop format aims to organize mutual learning, knowledge integration and knowledge transfer among people from different disciplines, fields of action and societal domains.

What is somewhat particular to cbMLS is that they are focusing on a single case or a set of cases as focal points of the research. A cbMLS involves case experts, practitioners, scientists, policymakers and further participants that learn from each other, from the case and with the case during the process. It is composed of three phases: 1) the preparation phase consists of forming a research team and writing a case booklet, 2) the case encounter, during which participants are engaged face-to-face in excursions and workshops in order to jointly develop outcomes and 3) the post-processing phase focuses on the dissemination of results. A goal is to support learning from, with and between cases and to develop a concrete outcome – such as policy orientations – for the case study sites.

The cbMLS at the Leverage Points 2019 conference will focus on two cases, one is related to the district of Oldenburg (Lower Saxony), Germany and the other is one is based in Southern Transylvania, Romania. Both case study areas are confronted with intensive landscape changes which have ecological, economic, social and cultural consequences. A focus of the cbMLS will be on reactions and attitudes towards these changes. Pro-active attitudes and beliefs are dependent on perceived agency in both cases. Therefore, participants from both cases will be present in the cbMLS. The session consists of the preparation of a shared booklet at the forefront, an excursion to the Oldenburg district on the day before the conference (5 Feb 2019), further sessions, and a presentation of results on the first conference day (6 Feb 2019).

Examples in which cbMLS have been implemented are the 1st Global TraPs conference, and a project on sustainable family farming practices in Colombia (Ortiz et al. 2018). For further information on the concept of cbMLS see Vilsmaier et al. 2015.


Abstract submission for this conference closes on 30 June — soon! Submit your Abstract here.

For more information please visit:

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

Making the Leverage Points Conference Family-Friendly

By Julia Leventon

I’m very excited that Mama is an Academic has teamed up with the Leverage Points conference organisers, and the family services at Leuphana University in order to make sure that the Leverage Points 2019 conference is mama friendly.  In truth, this is a fairly easy collaboration – I overlap as a Principle Investigator in Leverage Points, and a founder of Mama is an Academic.  But it feels like a timely collaboration, as there are many conversations happening at the moment about making conferences more accessible to mothers.  This is evident in recent twitter conversations linked to @mamacademic, and in excellent articles such as here.  So we wanted to get it right.

I also think it’s an important thing to do.  Since having my son 2 years ago, I have missed my favourite annual conference twice because my husband couldn’t take time off for those days.  I have struggled through trips away, pumping in uncomfortable locations (and often dumping the milk as there is nowhere to store it), and feeling a bit emotionally wobbly.  Now I also have my daughter.  I have (in part) planned this maternity leave around being ready for the conference because it is an important part of our project.  But at the time, I will still be working part time, my daughter will not yet be in childcare, and I will still be breastfeeding her.  I’m going to find three intensive conference days difficult.  Even though its in my home town!

So we have tried to think about what we need as mothers to make conference participation easier[1].  Therefore, there will be childcare.  Information about the childcarer will be available in advance so that parents can know a bit about them.  We will also have a ‘meet the carer’ event the day before the conference begins, so that parents and kids can feel confident and safe with the arrangements.  We have a quiet, private space for feeding or pumping, complete with fridge for storing milk.  There is access to kitchen facilities for anyone who needs a microwave or kettle for warming baby food, sterilizing equipment etc.  And there will be a Mama is an Academic networking event during the conference – mamas can meet each other for support on all topics academic motherhood, whether or not they are attending with their little ones.

More information about how to access these services will soon be available on the conference website.  But if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions on how we could help you, or other mothers at the conference, please be in touch with Anne Jo, who is taking charge of arrangements:


Abstract submission for this conference closes on 30 June — soon! Submit your Abstract here.

For more information please visit:

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

[1] These services are open to any parent attending with kids – not just the mamas!

Leveraging transformations in knowledge systems for a more vibrant and flourishing world

By Ioan Fazey.

Is there anything more important than trying to figure out how we should act, work and play in a world that is rapidly changing, and where contemporary challenges require much more than simply throwing the same kinds of thinking at them that created many of the problems in the first place? I am looking forward to ‘Leverage Points 2019’. The conference will provide exciting opportunities to examine how systemic change can come about and how we think about and frame such processes. In particular, I will be sharing some of the insights coming from my own and my colleagues work on the relationships between transformation and knowledge, and how the way we think about and approach science and learning influences the very nature of the world we create. Some of this thinking has led me to the conclusion that we need nothing less than a second revolution in science (the first having been influenced by the Renaissance and then was highly influential in the Enlightenment’). Such a revolution would require a fundamental change in the systems supporting learning and researching, educational and ‘practice’ oriented institutions and in the ways in which financing can be structured to create an open and collaborative mode of learning about the world and the place of humanity within it. It would also need to shift emphasis towards learning wisdom, not just producing knowledge. This would involve bringing ethics back into the picture, and unleashing the phenomenal potential of new technologies, young minds and the desire for people to do good in the world. Achieving such a vision, just like any systemic change, is clearly challenging and requires leverage to help us get there. I look forward to seeing you at Leverage Points 2019, and to hearing your thoughts on how we can all contribute to achieving a more vibrant and flourishing future.

Abstract submission for this conference closes on 30 June — soon! Submit your Abstract here.

For more information please visit:

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:


Leverage Points 2019 Conference: Transforming Research into Transformative Research

By Ulli Vilsmaier.

One stream of the Leverage Points 2019 Conference addresses the transformation of research towards transformative research. Under the label of transformative research, various forms of research are currently being tested that pursue both epistemic and transformative goals. Such research should not only produce knowledge that can be applied—following the traditional knowledge transfer logic of academia—but also trigger or even induce transformation.

Many scientists report from exciting experiences when engaging with the situation they research, but face difficulties, for example, when it comes to legitimizing interventions (“this is not your responsibility”); in publishing research results that have been created via action (“this is not a valid analysis”) and when stepping back and asking oneself: “What makes my professional identity? How to deal with my feelings of responsibility, and passion as a scientist? What does this do to my academic practice?” These dilemmas are not new. The question of whether homo politicushas to wait outside the door when entering academia is as old as modern scientific institutions. For sustainability science as a normative science, it is a crucial one to clarify.

The fact that transformative research is on the rise opens up profound questions about roles, tasks, and last but not least, power relations in the social fabric (“Who can speak out loudly? Whose voice is heard, whose knowledge is accepted?” (Spivak 2007)). In doing so, the praxis of research is brought into view and methodological questions appear in a different light. As a consequence, the established legitimation mechanisms and quality criteria of knowledge generation are  challenged, and negotiations of roles and tasks associated with transformative research become increasingly important.

It is obvious that this does not happen without contradictions. Therefore, we should advance both, varied, unconventional and bold experiments that unbound the concept of research in approaching unsustainable situations, and thorough reflection to contribute to the theoretical consolidation of transformative research. It seems promising to do both at once.

The Leverage Points 2019 Conference wants to create a space where encounters between more action oriented and more conceptual minded persons can take place. Where academic researchers, artistic researchers, every-day-life-researchers; spectators, interveners, administrators and inhabitants create dialogue and where dialogue becomes a lever to gain more profound understanding on how to realize transformative research, and ultimately, to transform the world into a more sustainable place. Because “[…] dialogue is the encounter in which the united reflection and action of the dialoguers are addressed to the world which is to be transformed […] (Paulo Freire, 1996 [1970]).


Abstract submission for this conference closes on 30 June — soon! Submit your Abstract here.

For more information please visit:

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

What does it take to be a transdisciplinary scholar? Exploring competencies for the ‘transdisciplinary triple jump’

Social-ecological systems Scholars

This is the third post in the series on ‘Transdisciplinary PhD Journeys’.

My name is Jessica Cockburn. I recently completed my PhD in Environmental Science at Rhodes University (Grahamstown, South Africa). I am now a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Environmental Learning Research Centre. My PhD research was a transdisciplinary enquiry on stewardship and collaboration in multifunctional landscapes. Taking a transdisciplinary (TD) research approach in my PhD was a means for me to legitimise a personal commitment to conducting research that is relevant and of value to practitioners working on environmental stewardship in South Africa. It was a way for me to do ‘science with society’1.

The first post in this blog series presented the challenge of the ‘transdisciplinary triple jump’, where PhD students have to simultaneously pay attention to scientific rigor and excellence, societal relevance and engagement, and self-respect and care. In this post, I…

View original post 1,553 more words

Leverage Points 2019 Conference: Systems thinking

By David Abson

The international conference “Leverage Points 2019” will be hosted by Leuphana University in the historic Hansestadt Lüneburg from 6-8 February 2019. While the conference has a number of core themes related to sustainability research and transformations, it was in no small part inspired by the seminal work of the great systems thinker Donella Meadows. In particular, Meadows’ impassioned plea for a more systematic approach to intervening in complex systems has been a key inspiration for the conference. Here I will introduce the systems thinking theme of the conference.

At its core sustainability can be thought of as a systems perspective. What it is we are trying to sustain is rarely a discrete single object, but rather a system of dynamically interconnected elements with a particular function or purpose (for example, a single farm, a pristine ecosystem, a cherished institution). In turn, that system is inevitably an element in a larger system. Where, and how, we define our system boundaries; how we describe system elements and the feedbacks between elements; and where we target interventions in complex, multi-dimensional and multi-scalar systems, fundamentally shapes how we conceptualize, and attempt to move towards, sustainability.

Thinking about how we tackle such complexity in order to move toward a more sustainable world can be overwhelming, but it is a challenge humanity needs to face. System thinking – a skill set for better understanding the deep roots of complex behaviors (Arnold and Wade, 2015) – provides anchors and waypoints for navigating pathways towards sustainability. In this conference theme we will explore the challenges, benefits and potential pitfalls of applying systems thinking to sustainability and transformative change across multiple scales and different systems of interest.

This includes, but may not be limited to, issues and topics, such as

  • Systems thinking for transformative change;
  • Scientific integration across disciplinary and system boundaries;
  • Assessing transformational change;
  • Feedbacks and dynamics in complex socio-ecological systems;
  • Bounding systems for sustainability research;
  • Empirical insights on system change;
  • Interacting system interventions;
  • Systems thinking and leverage points;
  • Novelty, system dynamics and sustainability

Abstract submission for this conference closes on 30 June — soon! Submit your Abstract here.


Arnold, Ross D., and Jon P. Wade. “A definition of systems thinking: a systems approach.” Procedia Computer Science 44 (2015): 669-678.


Leverage Points 2019 Conference: Time to Rethink!

By Liz Clarke

From 6-8 February 2019, Leuphana University will host the Leverage Points 2019 international conference on sustainability research and transformation. The conference is inspired by the seminal essay by Donella Meadows on Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system.

“Rethinking”, one of the conference themes, focuses on knowledge and knowing. In particular, how we transform through the creation, coproduction and use of knowledge, where the “re” signals ongoing process and change.

So rather than simply focusing on gathering ever more and more knowledge, Meadows points to the underlying social paradigms: the assumptions, norms, values and beliefs that shape how we learn and what we know.  Meadows identifies the two deepest leverage points as “2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system arises” and “1. The power to transcend paradigms”.

As we sit on the knife-edge of change in the Anthropocene facing a complex network of wicked problems, the dominant social paradigms in our society are coming under increasing scrutiny, with reflection on our assumptions, beliefs and values at the heart of this.

What helps us, and what hinders us, in our striving towards a just and sustainable future? And how can science and society come together more effectively to create this change? So how we are developing a new understanding of our relationship to the earth; a willingness to change; a collective learning approach among all participating interests; and openness to new kinds of solutions?

Join us at the Leverage Points 2019 Conference to discuss the following issues and topics and more:

  • Knowledge coproduction and collective learning
  • Modes of research for rethinking (including transdisciplinarity, mode 2 research, interdisciplinarity, transgression etc)
  • Knowledge and understanding in complex systems – notions of self-organisation, emergence, creativity and feedback
  • Narratives and pathways for transformation
  • Knowledge governance and knowledge networks for transformation
  • Processes of transformation, such as amplification, scaling, or diffusion
  • Different ways of understanding and implementing transformation, such as context-specific or indigenous and local perspectives


We welcome your contributions to these important topics: Abstract submission for this conference closes on 30 June — soon! Submit your Abstract here.

For more information please visit:

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

Feel free to distribute the conference flyer, available as a PDF here.